In her first guest blog for us Vicky Pearce, director of financial compliance specialists, b-compliant explains a problem facing an increasing number of advice/planning firms.
Over to Vicky…
There’s a worrying trend emerging at the moment.
Following a rise in DB complaints, Claims Management Companies (CMCs) are using advisory firms’ names to attract new business.
We are aware of one firm that has been the target of a Google AdWords campaign by a CMC. It started a downward spiral, resulting in a flurry of further claims being issued. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a problem for the big boys… CMCs are indiscriminatory. They’ll choose to chase firms of any size.
So, what’s the answer?
If you haven’t done so already, you should consider trademarking your brand name. By doing so, you can prevent others from using it and avoid any potential reputational damage or customer confusion that might ensue.
Someone else using your brand can be hugely detrimental and distract from your business, but simply registering your trading name with Companies House gives you no rights other than to stop someone else doing the same.
Google’s rules are clear on using trademarks without consent and it will investigate any valid complaint. You can lodge an infringement by completing an online form, which will then be reviewed and if upheld, certain restrictions may be enforced on the use of the trademark.
You don’t need to be an AdWords customer to lodge a complaint and you will be sent confirmation of the action Google has taken.
What can be trademarked?
The Intellectual Property Office is the government organisation that grants trademarks and it will consider an application covering any of the following:
- Colour (single)
- Colour (combination)
A trademark must be unique, so it cannot be confused with any other brand, but it cannot be descriptive. It is defined as a sign that identifies you as the owner of your goods or services and conveys messages about you and your reputation.
An effective brand can be a critical factor in driving customers’ purchasing decisions, particularly on the internet and social media, and the more you differentiate yourself from others, the easier it is to protect.
By trademarking your company name, you are guaranteeing exclusive ownership of it and no one else can then use it without permission. If they attempt to do so, you can take legal action.
You are also securing your brand as a company asset. Trademarks can appreciate over time, as your reputation grows, and can be bought, sold, licensed, or used as security to further your business or expand into another industry.
Some are so valuable it’s hard to put a price on them – Coca Cola or Microsoft, for example.
The trademarking process
I’m not going to sugar coat this, trademarking is not all that easy to do, but it is worth the time and effort and only costs around £200 if you choose the DIY route.
If you are unsure if you have the time or capabilities in-house to complete the process, it is advisable to seek expert advice from a trademark attorney. It is essential to make sure your registration is right from the outset, as mistakes may not be rectifiable further down the line and could have a detrimental effect on your ability to enforce the protection of your mark.
It should take around four months to complete the registration process and, if there are no objections, the trademark is yours for the next ten years. If your business extends to Europe, you can obtain a Community Trade Mark that protects your brand across the EU and costs less than £1,000. Local national registrations for other countries are also available, although the costs for these vary.
Specific attacks on your business by a CMC or other entity can be devastating and rights to a brand acquired through use are not much help in the event of a dispute. They are difficult to prove and expensive to enforce. However, if someone tries to use your brand name as part of a targeted ad campaign once the trademark is in place, Google will be forced to take it down.
One final sobering thought – remember, anyone can register a trademark, so if someone gets there before you, prior use of the mark is no help. You could find you are suddenly stopped from using your own brand.
To learn more about trademarking and how the process works, the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys has some great advice.
If you would like to discuss trademarking your company name or the actions of a CMC, don’t hesitate to contact us by telephone 0161 521 8641 or email for more information. You can also click here to visit our website.